Spice Up Your Salad with Unusual Leafy Greens

Spice Up Your Salad with Unusual Leafy Greens

Many Americans have a remarkably unrefined taste in salads; my brother has long counted himself in this group.    Dice up some crunchy Iceberg type lettuce, splash on a dollop of ranch dressing, maybe chop a leaf of romaine up if you’re feeling frisky and call it a salad, this is the way we’ve been trained to eat.  I’m here, a voice in the supermarket produce aisle wilderness calling, to tell you it’s time to open up your palate, look beyond lettuce, live a little, and add some spice to your life and salad bowl with three of my favorite easy to grow leafy greens:  Mizuna, Frilly Mustard, and Italian Dandelion.

Mature Mizuna plants in the author’s container garden.

Before we get into species specifics, let’s cover a couple of reasons you should grow them at home!  Growing your own flavor-packed greens has many benefits.  First, leaves from these plants can be difficult to find anywhere but specialty health food stores or high-end supermarkets.  Growing your own ensures a consistent supply, especially if one utilizes the “cut and come again” harvesting method (just remove the leaves and stems you need that day, leave the crown intact and allow the plant to regrow for next week’s harvest).  Second, you do not have to worry about the too common food safety recalls and other health scares involving “leafies”.  If you follow standard safety practices (clean irrigation water, wash picked leaves and store properly, etc.), you’ll be eating scrumptious salads when everyone else is begrudgingly trashing entire bags of recalled store-bought greens.  Finally, each of these species double as gorgeous accent plants in

‘Scarlet Frills’ Mustard in the author’s container garden.

raised beds or containers.  I love plants that do heavy lifting as both eye-catching ornamentals and delicious edibles!

Mizuna is a little known member of the mustard family that is quickly becoming one of my favorite leafy greens!  It faces no major pest or disease problems in the garden and it is extremely tolerant of the cold weather Floridians periodically face through the winter, laughing off frost.  Mizuna possesses lovely, deeply cut, pale green, fringy leaves complete with crispy white stems, all of which are edible – no need to separate stems when processing to eat!  This lovely little Asian green has a mild peppery taste (think a toned-down Arugula) and adds perfect flavor and texture to any salad!

Many Southerners are well acquainted with traditional Mustard greens and their preparation (more than a little bacon and salt) but may not be aware of newer Mustard cultivars that give the species a bit of refinement and make it a salad celebrity!  This winter, I’m growing a cultivar of Mustard called ‘Scarlet Frills’ (aptly named with finely serrated burgundy-red leaves) and really enjoy its peppery horseradish taste as a foil to the mildly sweet taste of traditional salad greens like lettuce and spinach.  Mustards are extremely cold tolerant and slow to bolt, making it a mainstay in the salad garden all winter long; you really get your money’s worth from a few Mustard plants!  However, even if this leafy green wasn’t delicious, it would be worth growing.  The “fancier” Mustard cultivars are highly ornamental and deserve a spot in any cool season container garden.

‘Italiko Red’ Italian Dandelion in the author’s container garden.

Finally, the one that turns up the most noses when I mention growing and eating it, Italian Dandelion (Cichorium intybus)!  I’m not advocating foraging in your turfgrass to find dinner, in fact, Italian Dandelion is not a true dandelion (it’s actually a chicory).  However, it does share a number of features with its weedy cousin, including leaves that are similar in appearance and a vigorous taproot.  That’s where the comparisons stop though, as Italian dandelion is a superior garden plant, more upright growing, much larger, and deeper green (some varieties including the one I grow ‘Italiko Red’ have red veined leaves) than its wild cousin.  Unlike Mizuna and some of the milder mustards, Italian Dandelion is a bit of an acquired taste.  It imparts a strong bitter flavor that may be cut with milder greens in a salad or cooked down to reduce bitterness. Either way you try it, put Italian Dandelion on your cool season garden next year!

Mizuna, Frilly Mustard, and Italian Dandelion all require similar growing conditions.  In Florida, leafy greens are cool season vegetables, growing through the fall, winter and spring months.  Seeds should be sown in late September and can be stagger-sown (plantings every couple of weeks) to ensure a steady supply through spring.  As a rule, they prefer rich, well-drained soil high in organic matter.  These soil conditions are achievable with either quality commercial potting mixes or homemade concoctions of compost and pine bark. The beds or containers you fill with the aforementioned soil should be sited near a good water source (plants that aren’t convenient to water get neglected, trust me) in an area that gets 6-8 hours of full sunlight.  I like to topdress at planting (if using transplants) or after germination (if using seed) with a good general purpose, slow-release fertilizer, many formulations and brands that work are widely available for purchase.  Finally, be sure to purchase seed from a quality source.  Online purveyors Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Sow True Seeds are good places to start, though the options are nearly endless!

Next year, when planning your cool season garden, remember to add a little spice with these three leafy greens, Mizuna, Frilly Mustard, and Italian Dandelion!  For more information about cool season gardening and other topics, consult your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

Growing Squash in the Home Garden

Are you interested in growing squash in your garden?  Do you know the difference between summer squash and winter squash?  Check out this very informative instructional video on growing squash in your home garden by Walton County Agriculture Agent Evan Anderson.

 

 

Extending the Season for Leafy Greens

Are you interested in growing lettuce and other leafy greens?  Are you looking for tips on extending the growing season for your leafy green crop?  If so, then check out this very informative instructional video by Washington County Horticulture Agent Matthew Orwat.

Workshop: Catch It Before They Kill It – Friday February 16th

Workshop: Catch It Before They Kill It – Friday February 16th

 

Please join us for an informative workshop to learn about managing insects in fruit & vegetables. You will learn how to identify common insect pests, control insect pests and submit samples for diagnosis from University of Florida / IFAS specialists. Attendees will receive free Insect ID guides and participate in an on-site demonstration ! Pesticide CEUs will be available for license holders as well. This workshop  Washington County Agriculture Center 1424 Jackson Ave., East wing.  it will be Friday February 16, 8:30am-3:30pm and there is no cost. Pre-Registration required for count: Contact Nikki or Cynthia at 850-638-6180 or email Matthew Orwat at mjorwat@ufl.edu

 

Agenda

Welcome                                                                                                                             8:30am-8:35am

Matthew Orwat, Washington County Cooperative Extension

 Introduction                                                                                                                       8:35am-8:40am

Amanda Hodges, University of Florida

True bugs in Spring Vegetables-Identification and Management                                9:00am-10:15am

Amanda Hodges and Ploy Kurdmongkoltham, University of Florida

 Cowpea Curculio                                                                                                              10:15am-10:30pm

Ploy Kurdmongkoltham and Amanda Hodges, University of Florida

 Break                                                                                                                                    10:30am-10:45am

Whitefly Management                                                                                                 10:45am-11:10am

Matthew Orwat, Washington County Extension

 Importance of Invasive Species to North Florida Vegetable Production   11:10am-11:30am

Amanda Hodges, University of Florida

Invasive Stink Bugs and Related True Bugs                                                           11:30am-11:50pm

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Bagrada Bug, and Kudzu Bug

Amanda Hodges, University of Florida

 Lunch                                                                                                                                    11:50pm-12:30pm

Tomato leafminer Tuta absoltua                                                                              12:30m-12:45pm

Brad Danner, FDACS-DPI Survey Specialist

Old World bollworm and Exotic Spodoptera Pests                                             12:45pm-1:05pm

Silvana Paula-Moraes, University of Florida

Common Vegetable Plant Diseases in the Florida Panhandle

curcubits and hands on samples                                                                                1:05pm-1:35pm

Sanju Kunwar, University of Florida

 Pest and Pathogen Walk                                                                                               1:35pm-2:05pm

CAPS Exotic Corn Diseases of Concern                                                                    2:05pm-2:35pm

Brad Danner, FDACS-DPI Survey Specialist

Sample Submission, Arthropod and Disease samples                                      2:35pm-2:50pm

Ploy Kurdmongkoltham and Amanda Hodges, University of Florida

Conclusion and Post-Workshop Survey                                                                  2:50pm-3:15pm

Amanda Hodges, University of Florida

 

Increase Crop Diversity to Improve Your Garden

Most of you plant a spring vegetable garden with a number of different vegetable types. However, you may not realize that you are improving the health of your soil and your crops by planting a diverse garden.  Intercropping is a gardening practice of growing different crops in the same field.  When planting a mixture of crops in the same field year after year, it is important to rotate the location of each type of vegetable.  This is a practice known as crop rotation.  Intercropping and crop rotation will help reduce insect pest populations, increase beneficial insect populations, and reduce weed populations.

Crop Diversity

Growing plants in your garden that pest insects don’t like to eat makes the pests work harder to find what they do like to eat.  Studies have found reduced whitefly numbers on squash plantings mixed with a crop of buckwheat when compared to squash planted alone.  Another crop mixture that may be unintentional, but may work in your favor is a row of crapemyrtles along the edge of your garden.  Crapemyrtles will attract the crapemyrtle aphid which will attract predatory insects.  When the predatory insects run out of crapemyrtle aphids to eat, they will move to your garden and begin to hunt pest insects on your vegetable crop.

Squash with living mulch of buckwheat. Photo Credit: Oscar Liburd, UF/IFAS Extension

Trap Cropping

A trap crop is a plant that attracts a pest insect away from your food crops.  Trap crops work best when planted at the edge of your garden, along a fence row, or in movable containers.  A bare space, let’s say 5 feet or so, should be kept between your trap crop and your garden.  This will help keep the pests from moving on to your vegetables.  When you find a good population of pests on your trap crop then it is time to spray them with insecticide or cut the crop down and remove the debris to a location far from your garden.  If your trap crops are planted in containers, then it makes them that much easier to remove from near the garden area.

Cover Crops and Green Manure

Soil organic matter can be increased by the use of green manure and cover crops.  Cover crops are generally planted during the off-season, but they can be planted in between vegetable rows and tilled in at a designated time as a green manure.  Both cover crops and green manure improve the production of your garden by:

  • Suppressing weeds by competing for water, light, and nutrients;
  • Holding the soil in place and preventing erosion;
  • Scavenging for nutrients that can be utilized in future crops;
  • Reducing nematode populations;
  • Providing a habitat for beneficial insects.

A mixed plot of cover crops and trap crops. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

A number of different crops can serve as cover crops or green manure crops.  Most are legumes (bean family) or grasses.  A few that you might like to give a try are:

  • Cowpeas
  • Sunn hemp
  • Sorghum-sudangrass
  • Winter rye

More detailed information on cover crops and green manure can be found at this link: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa217.